Has anyone seen the petition going around to stop Kanye West from recording a David Bowie tribute album?
I’ve seen the petition circulating, and while I admit I chuckled at the very idea, I also didn’t consider signing, even for a short second.
Let’s consider what music really is, to begin. Music is a performing or performance art. Whether one is writing the music, performing it, or doing both – art is being created. So then, what’s art? Merriam-Webster says it’s something that is created with imagination and skill; and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings. Herein the struggle lies, and why music and art critics (and appraisers and/or valuation experts) have jobs…who decides what counts as imaginative, or skillful? How about beauty? It’s all pure opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, there are certain foundations of art that have been (mostly) agreed upon by the masses over the years, even so, it still comes down to basic opinion…and oddly, that opinion can change over time!
Before I continue, let me be forthright: I am not a fan of Kanye West. Unlike many, I don’t find his art to be particularly…well….good. It doesn’t bother me that all members of Duran Duran like him, or that Mr. Hudson worked with him in the past and apparently uttered the words, “Kanye-approved” at least a few times during the recording of Paper Gods. I’m gonna let that go for now. The point is, his work isn’t of my interest, and as someone pointed out last night, he’s gotten along just fine without me to this point…and I him, I might add. That said, like it or not, it’s still art…and my opinion of him is just that. He still has the right to create.
Which leads me to this: who are we to decide what IS or is NOT worthy of being created? That is a very different thing from deciding not to support one artist or another…we are talking about a petition that is saying someone doesn’t even (or shouldn’t even) have the right to create. Who is to say it wouldn’t be another artist or band next…because once that floodgate is opened….who is really going to be able to shut it?
I have no doubt that the person who created this petition didn’t really think it through. In fact, I’d love to find them and interview them for Daily Duranie because I think there’s much to be learned from a short, colorful trip through that person’s head. I’m sure that person, likely a huge fan of David Bowie’s, stood back, shook his head at the idea of Kanye recording a tribute, using David Bowie’s music, and said, “No way.” I can understand at least that much. After all, I lived through the comments from fans about a certain Duran Duran tribute album last year as I promoted the work here on the blog. People seem to get their knickers in a twist when art they love is reimagined into something entirely different. The trouble is, who are we really to decide what and/or who is worthy to reimagine or become a part of the conversation?? And…if that alone doesn’t grab you, let me stir the pot in another way: What if it were Duran Duran? Just imagine a scenario where someone decided they were sick of Duran Duran, and didn’t want them to ever cover another David Bowie song, and started a petition? Here’s the thing: once we allow a petition like this to happen for one artist, it could happen for anyone, anywhere. There would be petitions popping up everywhere limiting who or what could be created or recreated, and instead of art being organically sculpted by the imagination in one’s head – the opposite would be happening. Organizations would be deciding what might be more pleasing to the masses and encouraging that kind of art and perhaps not allowing others. Fascinating. Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar to what labels already do???
One more thought – what about David Bowie himself? After all, it is his work we’re talking about, isn’t it? Would David Bowie want a petition to decide who and when his work could be used as inspiration? I doubt it. I highly, highly doubt it. After all, above all else, David Bowie was an artist. A creator. For much of his career, his own work was criticized and known to shock. That’s what art DOES. It provokes a profoundly deep, emotional response. This petition is effectively saying that after his death, we agree to put his work on a pedestal and not allow anyone else to enter into that narrative unless agreed upon by the masses. That, my friends, is the opposite of art.
This just isn’t a bus I’m getting on. At the precise moment we as a society decide that we have the right to tell someone what kind of art they can create, we’ve completely lost the full definition of what art really IS. If one really wants their voice heard, don’t buy the album – should it really happen, don’t support Kanye West as an artist if one so chooses…but don’t stop someone from being creative, and certainly not in the name of David Bowie.